Jeff Pitman's Survivor: China recaps

Swim or sink

 

Episodes 8 and 9 together showed the last gasp of the remaining Zhan Hus. In Episode 8, Peih-Gee and Erik attempted to flip Denise and Courtney, but alas, they stayed put, (as did Frosti, who apparently saw himself as a Fei Long). Following Jean-Robert's departure, that opportunity was theoretically still alive in the next episode, but instead everyone decided to vote out Frosti. Even Courtney, who had a mini-showmance with him.

 

Why didn't Denise flip, even when the Jean-Robert vote left her completely in the dark? Why didn't Frosti and Erik work harder to at least pull in Courtney, and force a 4-4 tie at Final 8? Why didn't Peih-Gee, who had immunity? For a season as revered as China, these are some pretty major strategic/ gameplay shortcomings. As Todd said several episodes back, it seemed like he was the only one playing over this stretch. Then again, maybe that was just the edit, and that other stuff was happening, but just not shown.

 

These episodes also featured two team reward challenges, including full coverage of a key aspect that's almost never shown any more: the schoolyard picks. In both picks, Denise and Courtney are the last two people remaining when teams are chosen, which is particularly hurtful to Denise in Episode 8, because she's completely unchosen, and ineligible for reward. When Denise is left out of the loop on the Jean-Robert boot, the division is further driven home. Then at the very next RC, Denise and Courtney are again the remainders.

 

It's unclear whether the picks were shown because they were so integral to the story, or because that was the style at the time (maybe it's both?), but it's really striking seeing how important those now-unshown events are to the narrative. Then again, it all turns out to be a red herring, because the flip that the edit seemed to be setting up... never happened. It's a bit frustrating in retrospect, because all the parts were there for a power shift, just waiting to be brought together. But all for naught, like Frosti giving up the chance to eat cheeseburgers, only to end up falling just short in his final immunity challenge. Maybe if Denise had been more of a modern, aggressive gamer, it would have been different. (Maybe if it had been superfan Leslie instead of Denise?) Maybe it was all James's talk about apples. Or maybe it's just an underappreciated aspect of Todd's ability to keep the Fei Longs together, on the same course.

 

Emulating Tina

Emulating Tina

 

For as much (completely deserving) credit as Todd gets as the mastermind of this season, the early post-merge boot order is actually quite similar to one from very early in the show's history, namely Tina's choices in The Australian Outback. There, instead of a straight Pagonging, Tina zig-zagged between ousting the opposing tribe and whittling down her own. So has Todd. Tina listened to and quelled internal Ogakor discontent about Jerri (mostly from Keith, but also Colby) to move Jerri's boot up ahead of some of the more harmless, well-liked Kuchas (Elisabeth and Rodger). Later, Jerri's former lackey (and potential Colby side-alliance) Amber also jumped the queue, when Nick forced the decision by winning immunity. The Ogakor alliance was able to make these decisions once they had a two-person advantage over Kucha, and used this flexibility to keep the core Tina-Colby-Keith alliance together.

 

Essentially the same set of events happened here in China. Everyone (especially Courtney) hated Jean-Robert, so he left before three of the Zhan Hus. Frosti then was a logical choice as the next most-dangerous Zhan Hu, both for challenge prowess and a potential side-alliance with Courtney. Then (in the next episode), James (with two idols, and solid Denise ally) jumps ahead in the boot order, even ahead of Peih-Gee, after Erik wins immunity. In both China and The Australian Outback, this worked because it was a logical way to do things, and it kept the core close... but also just wary enough to want the safety of numbers. Maybe that's why potential flipping never happened. Maybe it never happened because it just wasn't done at that time. Either way, an interesting parallel between the seasons.

 

Frosti's miscalculation

Frosti's miscalculation

 

Frosti, along with Jaime, is an underrated Survivor player who has largely been forgotten in the 10 years since China aired. People remember the parkour, maybe his audition video. But he actually played pretty well, especially considering he had to navigate a particularly perilous swap, one that seemed almost intended to take out potential challenge beasts, as it did with Aaron.

 

What's more, Frosti made it through with seeming ease. Everything seemed to be going so well for Frosti after the swap. He had seemingly integrated seamleslly into Fei Long's social hierarchy. He helped vote out Sherea, saving himself from Fei Long's only post-swap vote. He was present (albeit uninvited) during Todd and Amanda's idol find, and continued to keep their secret. After the merge, he stayed loyal to the Fei Long core, helping to dispatch Jaime, then Jean-Robert. But then everything fell apart, somehow, with Erik making social inroads (which Frosti warned Todd about), and despite Peih-Gee annoying James with her conflict initiation and/or micromanaging of his cooking. Frosti voted the right way at each of his first six Tribals, then at his seventh... was unanimously voted out.

 

Frosti's biggest mistake was probably that he was too successful at integrating into Fei Long, such that he and Courtney were verging on showmance territory. (Or at least the show insinuated as much.) In fact, he'd infiltrated so much, the Zhan Hus seemed to have no qualms voting against him. Rather than rallying James and Denise, or Denise and Courtney, Peih-Gee and Erik just seemed to shrug and vote out a guy who would probably have been happy to go along with them. Oh well.

 

Not only that, but he was also really, really good at challenges, winning the first immunity, and finishing second in the next two, for a historically great 92.1% Mean % finish in individual challenges (more than 30% above the next-best person). That's on par with Cole Medders, Tocantins Tyson Apostol, and Worlds Apart Joe Anglim. Further sinking Frosti's boat: he and Erik basically won the entire team reward challenge by themselves on the day before Frosti was voted out. Then Erik picked an excellent time to underwhelm in individual challenges, being immediately eliminated in the IC the next day. So Frosti clearly presented the greatest challenge threat.

 

Shorter takes

Just don't eat the damn apple

 

  • It's funny that James's actual apple quote was "Just don't eat the damn apple. Be naked and be happy. Don't eat that damn apple." Which was shortened to... "Just Don't Eat the Apple" for episode title purposes. Not even an ellipsis! How quaintly modest.

 

  • For everyone complaining about near-useless assigned roles like "unlocking locks" in team challenges, Courtney and Amanda did almost nothing in the Ep9 ("Drum Roll") reward challenge. Each was only shown touching a ball maybe once, while Erik and Frosti were continuously trading off control of the bouncing. Yet, this was a fun challenge to watch (albeit horribly mismatched).

 

  • Both "Drum Roll" and the barrel-sitting IC Courtney won ("Dragon Rider") are uniquely China challenges that were visually interesting and memorable. Challenges that could easily be repeated at any time, but for some reason, haven't. Instead, in modern Survivor, we have infinite post-merge variations of people standing on narrow perches and balancing things for hours. Bleah.

 

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That's it for Episodes 8-9 discussion, but feel free to (rewatch and) comment below. See also:

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